Defensively the Tigers stifled the potent Volunteer offense all night long, but it was the Auburn offense that set the tone for the game with over 300 yards of offense and 31 points in the first half alone. Coach Al Borges said the real tone for the game and the energy during the game was helped by the large and very vocal following of Auburn fans that made their presence felt all day long in Knoxville.
"Our crowd was great," Borges said. "That was the first time I've been in a visitor's stadium and really been able to hear your own crowd. (Tiger Walk) was amazing. I was a little more taken aback by this one because it surprised me. I did Tiger Walk at Mississippi State and when I walked through to at LSU the electricity was off the charts, but this game I just did not expect the enthusiasm to be so great, that many people to be there. The fans were fantastic before, during and after the game."
Riding a wave of emotion coming into the contest, the offense wasted little time getting started as it drove 55 yards in nine plays on the way to the game's opening score. Things just piled on from there as quarterback Jason Campbell directed a nearly flawless offensive attack in the first 30 minutes. Borges said that Campbell had yet another great game under center and is running his team.
"He had probably his best game," Borges said. "The kid was 16-23 for the game and I know for a fact he threw four balls away and had two dropped. That's incredible when you think about it. That's a pretty phenomenal night when you look at the whole thing, not just at the fact that he's 16-23. He continues to play well and continues to play poised. He gets under center and knows the offense."
Campbell has been outstanding this season and is the top-rated passer in the SEC.
Just like most teams, Tennessee came into Saturday night's game determined to stop the run and make Campbell beat them. In the end that's exactly what happened as the threat of the run kept Tennessee from selling out in the pass rush department.
"They played the run pretty darn hard," Borges said. "We figured we would have to be pretty balanced to beat them. They were pretty young in the secondary and we have some experience at wide receiver and quarterback. That's what it's about. I'm really convinced the longer I coach that there's just going to be games when you're just going to have to throw the ball to win, but if you think you're going to go out there every game to depend on your passing game then you're going to get beat. We've tried as hard as we possibly can to keep as much balance as we could and this game it showed up more than any other."
One area that Auburn played solid all game long was on the offensive line. Needing to keep the protection good up front while also knocking as many as eight and nine men off the ball for the running game, the Tigers rushed for 148 yards on 42 carries. But, Borges said the numbers are okay as long as there's some semblance of balance.
"They did a good job," Borges said. "What makes it even tougher is that because of the crowd noise we had to go to "no count cadence". We're moving on the ball just like the defense. Hence, there goes your advantage. Your advantage of knowing the snap count is gone. That's tough, that's a hard thing to do now. It doesn't affect the passing game as much as it affects the running game. I thought, all things considered, our kids did a pretty darn good job of coming off the ball and putting our hats on their hats."
For the first time this season senior Ronnie Brown was a big part of Auburn's offensive package and the results where huge for the Tigers. Brown ran the ball 13 times for 57 yards and one touchdown and also added six catches for 79 yards through the air. Borges said that was something they had been waiting to use this season and the timing couldn't have been better as both Brown and Carnell Williams kept the Vols guessing all night long.
"Our goal going into the game was to try to get Ronnie Brown as many touches as Carnell, and not necessarily running the ball just touching the ball," Borges said. "Whether it was passing, running, receiving, whatever, we just wanted to make sure he got his equal number without any major goals. We just wanted to make sure both touched the ball. We felt like it they both touched the ball on a pretty equal frequency that we would be able to create enough big plays to win the game."
Despite being in shorts and shoulder pads, Sunday's practice was more physical than normal as the Tigers worked on fundamentals such as blocking and tackling for just over an hour. Coach Tommy Tuberville said that with a tough stretch coming up beginning this Saturday against Louisiana Tech it's important to get as much work in early this week to be sure the team is fresh for Saturday.
The injury situation appears to be in fairly good shape for the Tigers as there were just a few minor bumps and bruises suffered during Saturday night's win. Running back Tre Smith banged-up his shoulder again on Tuesday night and his status for next week remains uncertain at this time. He did not practice on Sunday.
True freshman Brad Lester's foot injury remains bothersome and Tuberville said he's not certain when Lester will return to practice. Some good news is that sophomore guard Tim Duckworth ran on the side during Sunday's workout and could return for this weekend's game.
Auburn will be off on Monday and return to practice Tuesday afternoon in preparation for the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs.